Thursday, September 27, 2007


Last Thursday I was taken on a date for one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. The place was Le Pigeon (the tiny restaurant that’s been mentioned in Gourmet and other national media a couple of times this year for their head-to-tail cooking--the preparation of parts of animals that only a foodie could love). Upon our arrival, their three communal tables were packed, so we put our names on the waiting list for the bar surrounding the open kitchen. The menu, as we could already see, looked amazing, and we mused about what we would taste that night—foie gras over puff pastry wrapped peaches? Beef cheeks? Summer squash with a foie vinagrette? The kitchen staff wears a shirt that says “in foie gras we trust.” I don’t necessarily agree with or favor foie gras, but for some reason, the richness of the night called for it.

In the meantime, we strolled East Burnside and rode the elevator up to Rocket for a drink. Rocket is incredible for a number of reasons—it has a 300-degree view of the city of Portland, the building it’s in is Platinum LEED certified (the most sustainably built possible), it has a garden on it’s roof (where the cooks grow greens and herbs for their salads and side dishes), and it’s owned by Leather Storrs, one of the best chefs in town. As we enjoyed our well-crafted cocktails, I noticed an acquaintance of mine who happens to be a chef there, and he offered to show us up onto the roof. The three of us climbed the ladder to this rooftop with THE most breathtaking view of Portland—the twinkling lights, the neighborhoods, the clouds were mottled and you could see the stars. If there were daylight you would have been able to see the mountains. Anyway, the chef showed us around all of these interesting hydroponic plantings—kiddie pools with rows of herbs growing in them, eggplant growing out of a cement planter box, pvc pipe holding pots of baby lettuces. After taking it all in, we returned downstairs to finish our drinks then headed out the door and back to Le Pigeon.

We walked in to find our places set and waiting for us on the corner of the bar. Reading the menu, we were excited but almost overwhelmed by all of the choices. When approached by the server my companion asked “do you think the kitchen would be up for doing a tasting menu?” He replied obligingly “yeah, definitely, what do you wanna do, like 5 courses, 6 to share?” We decided on 5 (already so decadent), and my date followed with “and I’ll leave the wines up to you.” To the waiter. To pair! I was FLOORED. What a treat! I’ve never had the pleasure of a tasting menu before (when the kitchen prepares a coursed out menu of their choice—like a best-of-the-best chef’s choice menu). And wines to go with it! So impressive. Shortly, the feast began...

1. Sweetbreads done perfectly (lightly floured and pan-fried) with an uni (sea urchin roe) mayonaise and a relish of cubed pickled watermelon rind. The watermelon rind thing was delicious, and I thought ingenious, since it’s something that you normally discard. (paired with a white Bordeaux—sauvignon blanc and semillon)
2. Eel glazed with an Oregon truffle sauce over a thin piece of toasted brioche on a bed of lentils that had the most amazing sweet-savory taste to it. I don’t even know how to describe this dish but it was so mouthwateringly incredible. Definitely our favorite. (paired with a cab/merlot blend that fortified with brandy which kind of tasted like a port)
3. Beef tongue bacon (no joke) with a pickled egg salad. This may sound unsettling but it was amazing, I’d never had tongue before and may never again, but here it was sliced into squares and barbecued—the dish was like a high cuisine’s version of delicately prepared barbecue (the egg salad had the vinegar and celery of potato salad). [At this point the waiter just gave us a free wine to go with it, a Tokaji Aszu white because he said that it really needed to be paired with beer, but that would’ve been too intense mid-meal).
4. Pork chop cooked for three days—first rubbed, then confited in olive oil and finally cooked in some sort of cryo-bag in a pot of water, for the most tender and subtle flavor. It had this delicious curried fennel and potatoes with it (braised fennel and potatoes with a creamy curry-powder dressing). (Here the wine pairings get fuzzy, all I remember in the richness of the moment was that this one one was red and so was the next).
5. Duck roasted over butternut squash puree and chanterelle mushrooms with a sage/pear reduction/brown butter sauce. Oh my god. This dish was so rich (almost too rich to be the last) but I thought delicious. Seasonal perfection.

Needless to say, we were absolutely stuffed. For dessert, we took a walk.

Whenever I've cooked anything interesting recently, it’s been for a party. Last night was my friend’s 27th birthday, a boisterous barbeque held inside her house on account of the cloudy autumnal weather. This lovely friend however, is gluten-intolerant, and it seems these days that more and more of my friends have food allergies—wheat, dairy, soy, nuts, etc. etc. Many such friends were present last night. These limitations have at times irritated me, especially when it comes to eating out (at least they’re not vegans), but on this particular occasion I was excited by the challenge that they posed. I wanted my friend to have a birthday cake, even if she can’t eat wheat. So following much contemplation on her tastes and preferences, along with a field trip to the neighborhood health food store, I created a tasty recipe—an ice cream pie.
First I thought of an easy route—mud pie, but then I saw spotted of the last berries of the season and came up with something even better. Here it is, but note that the process takes 2 days because of setting the layers in the freezer—

-1 bag of Newman’s Own Wheat-Free Chocolate Cookies
-1/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
-2 T. butter
-1 large (Breyer’s size) carton of organic vanilla ice cream
-1 small carton (Haagen-daz size) of organic raspberry ice cream*
-1 pint of very ripe blackberries*
-2 T. brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1. Set the carton of vanilla on the counter to soften as you prepare the crust.
2. Pour the all of the cookies and the chocolate chips into a food processor and process until finely ground.
3. Dump into a mixing bowl and work the butter through with your hands to distribute—you want it to clump, so add more butter if necessary.
4. Press the crust into a 9x12” cake pan or casserole dish (I used a round pie dish, but the ingredients make enough for a rectangular cake-sized dish), and bake for about 12 minutes, until just crisp/set.
5. Remove from oven and cool on the counter or fridge (meanwhile check the ice cream—if it’s getting too soft, put it in the freezer or fridge—you don’t want it liquid, just spreadable). When the crust is cooled to room temperature, spatula the vanilla ice cream into the crust in one smooth layer. You’ll want to scoop it out in large clumps and press it in so that it doesn’t pull up the crust.
6. Freeze until hard (most likely overnight).
7. Next day: Put blackberries and sugar into the food processor with a splash of water and puree.
8. Pour the puree evenly over the vanilla layer and freeze.
9. After that has frozen, soften the raspberry ice cream and spread over the berry layer and freeze until solid (a few hours because it’s a thinner layer).
10. To serve: slice fresh strawberries and arrange artfully over the top, or top with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

*When I got to thinking about it, so many delicious variations could be made on this recipe—different berry flavors, different fruit, different ice cream—you can really do whatever you want as long as the colors contrast enough to look good when you slice it (this one was brown, cream, purple and pink). I think that an amazing combination would be vanilla and passion fruit with a shortbread crust. Or creamsicle, or chocolate-mint, or lemon-orange-cream, or, or...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Though long overdue, I feel the need to make brief mention of my trip back home to Hawaii in August. Because I was there to see friends and family, I had no specific foodie goals other than to revisit my old breakfast haunts like the Kilauea Bakery, eat some sushi (at the Princeville Clubhouse) and have some ripe tropical fruit (papaya, banana and mango oh my!). Anyway, usually when good friends are present, pickiness takes a back seat and food doesn’t matter so much.

The exception to this rule however, was at the magical wedding that we were all home to be a part of. It was a 300 person luau style celebration, homegrown in every aspect. Many of those involved have known each other for over 20 years—the wedding planner himself was an elementary school classmate of ours. Anyway, I was truly impressed by the spread of food that was laid out for the wedding feast, and all of the love that went into each contribution to the meal. See, it was comprised of elements from different people and different places. The maid of honor’s mother was the primary chef and coordinator. She prepared much of the meal, including her famous fish tacos that were made with Ahi caught fresh by none other than the groom’s father. They had (as I think it is one of the bride’s favorite foods) kalua pork, imu-ed (cooked underground, Hawaiian style) in the backyard of one of their friends. To accompany that, there was poi, no doubt made by people they know. They also had ono venison pipikaula (smoked meat), caught by someone’s uncle on a hunting trip to Moloka’i. And finally, the bride’s mainland side (from Washington state) brought loads of richly smoked salmon, which was made into a sort of lomi-lomi spread. It was perfect, so delicious, and so lovingly comprised. Even the beautiful, tiered wedding cake (though it disastrously melted in the August heat), was made by a friend. I’m sure it tasted great though. And last but not least, we toasted all night courtesy of a canoe stocked with ice and the happy couple’s favorite beers--Heinneken, Heinneken Light, Steinlager or Corona (served with a commemorative “coozy” to keep it all cool). Local style...gotta love it!